Chapter III
Early Activities

Asiatic Fleet in Dutch East Indies--Logistics of Raiding Forces--Coral Sea--Midway

After the Japanese bombing of the fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the three battleships capable of steaming were ordered to the United States for repairs: The Maryland and Tennessee to Bremerton, the Pennsylvania to Hunters Point, San Francisco. The Colorado was already undergoing overhaul at Bremerton. When the work was finished, this group assembled on 31 March 1942 at San Francisco. There they were joined by the New Mexico, Mississippi, and Idaho, which had been rushed from the Atlantic.Together with a squadron of destroyers which had no tender, this seven-ship force based on San Francisco until late in May. The ships were serviced almost entirely from shore facilities. With the exception of targets, target-towing vessels, and planes they were given very little floating service.

On 14 April the force left port with the possibility of being used to assist in stopping the Japanese in their South Pacific drive toward Australia. No train (group of supply vessels) was available, so the ships were crammed with all the fuel, food, and ammunition they could hold. So heavily overloaded were they at the start that they were three to four feet deeper in the water than they were ever meant to be. The third or armored decks were all below the water line; none of the ships could have withstood much damage either above or below water. The Coral Sea action was fought before they could take part in it, the enemy backed off, and the force was not called upon. After staying at sea until their fuel was nearly gone and the fresh provisions exhausted, the ships returned to California at San Pedro.

No one concerned with it will ever forget the servicing of this force there. The San Pedro base had not been used by the fleet for 2 years, and


was practically without floating equipment. Upon notification of the prospective arrival, and the stores and fuel required, the base authorities called upon the citizens and local firms for action. The response was a magnificent demonstration of patriotic support by the entire community. Rich and poor, celebrities and unknowns, worked side by side on docks and vessels of all sorts, including yachts, operated in many instances by their owners. The job was completed in good time.

Of course, there was no problem of resupply of ammunition because the force had not been action. If there had been, no doubt it could have been solved by the "incredible Yankee resourcefulness" of the Californians. However, the point to be observed in this maneuver is that the Navy was unprepared at this fleet base to do an efficient job of logistics for a small force of its ships, mainly because of its lack of floating equipment. In fact, the Navy was unprepared to do the job at all without the wholehearted community assistance. This battleship force continued to base on San Francisco until midsummer of 1942, when it moved to Pearl Harbor.

Asiatic Fleet in the Dutch East Indies

Our Asiatic Fleet had meanwhile moved south from the Philippines and into the Java area, joining with the British cruisers Exeter, Hobart, Perth, and Electra, which were accompanied by several destroyers, and the Dutch cruisers of the East Indies Force, DeRuyter, Java, and Tromp, also with a few destroyers. Many of these British and Dutch vessels were in use for convoying to and from Singapore, and real concentration in full strength was not attained until near the end. What joint action occurred was poorly coordinated, not only in tactics but in basing and servicing. The basing of our ships until 3 February on Dutch East Indies ports, particularly Soerabaja, was not too bad, except that there was a shortage of ammunition and torpedoes, and special equipment and spare parts for all types. Our submarines, however, based first at Darwin, later at Fremantle, West Australia.

The first part of our Asiatic Fleet, made up of the seaplane tender Langley, the oilers Pecos (Commander E.P. Abernathy) and Trinity (Commander Williams Hibbs), with the destroyers John D. Ford and Pope, left Manila 8 December and next day joined Admiral Glassford, whose flag was in the heavy cruiser Houston. With im were the light cruiser Boise and the destroyers Barker, Paul Jones, Parrott, and Stewart. The two forces


met to the south of Luzon and continued southward through the Sulu Sea. On 12 December the two cruisers left the formation and proceeded on special duty at greater speed.

The ships were in hostile waters, had no intelligence of the enemy's whereabouts, and everyone was keenly alert, every eye strained for possible danger. At 1115, the Langley suddenly opened fire on a suspicious object, range 6,000, first spot up 100. The dimly seen object turned out to be the planet Venus, which is sometimes visible during daylight in that particular atmosphere. No hits were made!

On 13 December the light cruiser Marblehead (Captain A.G. Robinson) joined, and the next day the whole detachment anchored in Balikpapan, Borneo, where the merchant line President Madison, three Dutch tankers, and two British ships were already moored. Later submarine tenders Holland and Otus and cruisers Houston and Boise came in, together with the converted yacht Isabel, the auxiliary Gold Star, ocean tug Whippoorwill,/ the small seaplane tender Heron, the converted destroyer seaplane tender William B. Preston, and a few small craft. All the ships were fueled here, and the oilers Trinity and Pecos refilled with oil and gasoline.

Admiral Glassford divided his Task Force Five into two groups on the basis of speed. The fast group was headed by Captain S.B.Robinson in the Boise, the slower commanded by Captain A.G. Robinson in the Marblehead, and all, including the flagship Houston, sailed for Makassar in the Celebes, N.E.I., where the Houston left them for Soerabaja. There Admiral Glassford wished to hold preliminary conferences with the Dutch and British. The two groups remained at Makassar, holding drills and refueling, until 22 December, when they steamed out for their respective areas. The auxiliaries went to Darwin, which was soon found to be too far away, and too hazardous as well, to be any proper logistic base.

Patrol Wing Ten had had rough going from the start, both from operational hardships and from the enemy. Two days before Christmas, 1941, the surviving planes from Squadron 101 of "PatWing" Ten were sent sent to Ambon, in N.E.I. in Banda Sea S.W. of Ceram, where there were in the Celebes was our Patrol Squadron 22. The Heron, Childs, and William B. Preston did most of the servicing for these squadrons. The Australian command was cordial and the two organizations exchanged some operational and material support, but neither was strong enough to do what was called for in either reconnaissance or offensive strikes.


Map: Southwest Pacific, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo
Map: Southwest Pacific, Australia, New Guinea, Borneo


On 15 January 1942, 26 Japanese bombers and 10 fighters attacked Ambon. We lost 3 patrol planes and had others damaged. The net day, Patrol Squadron 101, of which only 4 planes were left, was ordered to Soerabaja. Patrol Squadron 22 held on for a few days longer at Kendari. On the 24th the Childs barely escaped a Japanese task force there, and it was clear that the end was not far off. Given another month of attention at the hands of an enemy who held control of the air whenever he chose to exercise it, no amount of logistics could save the situation. What was needed desperately and did not have was air power--bombers, fighters, and patrol--in sufficient strength to fight it out with the oncoming Japanese.

Admiral Glassford sent orders on 23 December 1942 making the oiler Trinity (Commander William Hibbs) Task Unit 5.5.3 and ordering her to Woworada Bay, Soembawa. The other auxiliaries were designated as the Train and sent to Darwin, which by order of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington was made the logistic base. Since it was apparent that Darwin was too far away, the Trinity was used in some of the bays nearer the scene of operations. Later the oiler Pecos and the commercial tanker George D. Henry were taken from Darwin and put to more active use. Soerabaja was the main operating base until the final 3 weeks of the defense campaign in the Netherlands East Indies.

The Train consisted of the flagship submarine tender Holland (Captain J.W. Gregory), with Captain W.E. Doyle as Commander Base Force (Train) aboard; the submarine tender Otus (Commander Joel Newsom); the Gold Star, a general auxiliary (Commander J.U. Lademan); the seaplane tender Langley (Commander R.P. McConnell); the oiler Pecos (Comander E.P. Abernethy); the destroyer tender Blackhawk (Commander G.L. Harriss); the small seaplane tender Heron (Lieutenant W.L. Kabler); the converted destroyer seaplane tenders Childs (Commander J.L. Pratt) and William B. Preston (Lieutenant Commander E. Grant); and the converted patrol yacht (Isabel (Lieutenant John W. Payne).

During January there was considerable moving about between Darwin, Woworada Bay, Keopang Bay, Timor,and Kebalas Bay, Alor Island, just north of Timor in the N.E.I. On 18 January the first refueling at sea in this campaign took place when the Trinity oiled the destroyer Alden at a speed of 10 knots. Again the tanker, on 7 and 8 February, refueled six escorting destroyers at 9.5 knots.

Four days previous--3 February--the Japanese had bombed us out of Soerabaja, and on the 10th practically the entire Asiatic Fleet, with


Train, had gathered at Tjilatjap, Java. But there was not security anywhere. A week later, on 17 February, the Trinity had to go all the way to Abadan, Iran, for oil. The Japanese had shut off or captured every East Indian source except a very small supply from the interior of Java, so this dangerous voyage of more than 5,000 miles was necessary. The oiler Pecos was also scheduled to refill in the Persian Gulf, but was sunk--with the Langley survivors on board--by the enemy on 1 March, just after getting started for Colombo, Ceylon. The Train, in its short 10 days at Tjilatjap, put in some much-needed work on the worn, racked, and hard pressed ships of our striking force, and then most of its own vessels had to be sent off the Exmouth Gulf, West Australia, for the jig was nearly up in Dutch waters.

Usually ample fuel oil was available for this force, and some of the Dutch tankers were very efficient, but the method of distribution practiced by the Dutch bases was slow. Much of the oil was stored in the interior. The service from our tankers was faster, but in the circumstances these tankers could not be made available to all. Toward the last there was a shortage because of the dependency the naval ports had placed upon peacetime delivery from Borneo and Sumatra, rather than upon full development of interior Javanese oil sources. The Australian cruiser Hobart, for example, though undamaged, could not participate in the Java Sea battle on 27 February because she could not get fuel. Tjilitjap was the operating base for both Dutch and American striking forces after we were bombed out of Soerabaja. It was inadequate, but of course it was only a matter of days before it too became untenable.

Each successive raid by or encounter with Japanese planes left us with fewer ships. After her severe mauling on 4 February, the cruiser Marblehead was patched up, mainly by her own crew, so that she could start for home by way of Ceylon and the Cape of Good Hope. "Patched up" is a correct term, for we had no real facility for making what we ordinarily would have called temporary repairs according to Navy standards. It speaks well for the initiative and resourcefulness of the shot-up crew of the Marblehead--and the men of some other vessels--that the patchwork enabled the ship to function. The destroyer Stewart, however, had to be abandoned in a bombed and disabled condition in a bomb-wrecked Dutch drydock. The Japanese salvaged her and put her in service, only to lose her to our Navy in action. Grounding had damaged the Boise on 21 January so badly that she was beyond repair by available facilities. She was accordingly cannibalized--stripped, for the benefit of her sisters--of all ammunition and stores and sent limping off to Ceylon.


On 27 February the final attempt to slow the Japanese drive on the Netherlands East Indies was made by the Dutch Admiral Doorman. He had 5 cruisers and 10 destroyers left out of the combined Dutch, British, and American forces, not counting submarines and their tenders, and the old aircraft tender Langley, sunk a few days later. The after turret of the Houston was inoperative as a result of bombing on 4 February, and there was not facility for repairing it before going into action. Doorman failed, and the order was given to leave the Java Sea. Only 4 American destroyers could do so; all the other ships were sunk by the Japanese. Orders for the withdrawal to the Australian coast for some of the personnel on shore were accomplished only by extreme methods, as we did not have enough vessels. Not even the little shore material there for servicing could be moved. In this campaign there never was sufficient force available to stop or greatly delay the Japanese. No matter how adequate the logistics might have been, the outcome would not have been very different. This brief outline merely shows the relationship logistics bore to the situation.

Logistics of Raiding Forces

In January 1942 Vice Admiral Halsey with Task Force Eight and Rear Admiral F.J. Fletcher with Task Force Seventeen joined in raiding some of the Japanese-held islands of the Marshall and Gilbert groups. Task Force Eight consisted of the carrier Enterprise; cruisers Northampton, Salt Lake City, and Chester; the fleet oiler Platte; and seven destroyers. Task Force Seventeen consisted of the carrier Yorktown; cruisers Louisville and St. Louis; the fleet oiler Sabine; and five destroyers.

Task Force Eight had sailed from Pearl and Task Force Seventeen was just out from the United States. They were guarding the landing of Marines in Samoa when the raids were ordered.

While at sea the carriers and large vessels refueled on 17 January from the tankers Platte (Captain R.H. Henkle) and Sabine (Commander H.L. Maples), in two task groups, and the destroyers filled up from the larger ships of their own striking groups in latitude 09°30' S., longitude 169°00' W. This was repeated on 23 and 28 January. On the 28th the larger ships of the Enterprise group were topped off by the Platte in latitude 04°06' N., longitude 176°30'W. The strikes were made 1 and 2 February on Wotje, Maloelap, Kwajalein, Roi, Jaluit, Makin, Taroa, Lae, and Gugegive, and during the night of 2 February the destroyers again


refueled. After withdrawal the Yorktown group was fueled on the 4th from the Sabine, in latitude 11°00' N., longitude 163°00' W.

These raids seem to warrant a continuance, so on 14 February Halsey with the carrier Enterprise, two cruisers, seven destroyers, and the tanker Sabine sailed from Pearl Harbor for a raid on Wake Island. On the 22d he fueled his destroyers and took fuel from the tanker in latitude 25°30' N., longitude 167°00' E., approximately 300 miles north of Wake. He should have had another tanker in case he lost the Sabine, but unfortunately at that time tankers were almost as scarce as carriers. The strike was made on the 24th. Wake was bombed and shelled with excellent results and with the loss of only one plane. The Sabine meantime had retired to the northeast, and 2 days later she rejoined, refueling the destroyers once more. Again on 1 and 2 March in latitude 29°30' N., longitude 173°00' E., or thereabouts, the task group was refueled and started for a raid on Marcus Island, which was bombed by the Enterprise planes, again with the loss of but one plane.

Meanwhile in the South Pacific Vice Admiral Wilson Brown with the carrier Lexington and support cruisers and destroyers started a raid on Rabaul. He was discovered, used up much of his fuel in high-speed maneuvers while beating off Japanese plan attacks, and canceled the raid.

Task Force Seventeen, the Yorktown group under Rear Admiral F.J. Fletcher, was on its way to the South Pacific. After fueling twice at sea from the Guadalupe (Commander H.R. Thurber) it joined the Lexington group under Brown in a raid on 10 March on Salamaua and Lae on the New Guinea coast in which considerable damage was done to enemy naval and transport vessels. On 12 March the destroyers fueled from the heavy cruisers Indianapolis and Pensacola. Two days later the force was joined by the tankers Neosho (Captain J.S. Phillips) and Kaskaskia (Commander W.L. Taylor), and refueled from them during the next 3 days.

Then came the very dramatic raid on Tokyo, the comparative value of which may never fully decided. It kept carriers, tankers, other ships, and planes away from the South Pacific where they might well have been used to turn the balance from defensive to offensive weeks earlier. However, the heartening effect upon the nation may have been worth it. On 2 April, Task Force Eighteen, composed of the carrier Hornet (Captain Marc Mitscher), the heavy cruiser Vincennes, Destroyer Division Twenty-two, and the tanker Cimarron (Captain H.J. Redfield), sailed from San Francisco. On 8 April, Cimarron fueled destroyers Gwin


Neosho fuels Yorktown in heavy sea.
Neosho fuels Yorktown in heavy sea.


and Grayson. The next day which was set for fueling was too rough. On the 10th the Vincennes was fueled and on the 11th the remaining destroyers took some from the Hornet. On 12 April the Hornet supplied 400,000 gallons of fuel oil in latitude 38°30'N., longitude 175°00' W. On the next day Task Force Eighteen and Task Force Sixteen (Halsey) joined. The latter was composed of the Enterprise; cruisers Northampton, Nashville, and Salt Lake City; Destroyer Division Six; and the tanker Sabine. Three days later, 17 April (14 April was lost crossing the 180° Meridian), the Sabine fueled the Enterprise group, and the Cimarron did the same for the Hornet group, with some destroyers getting their fuel from the heavy ships. This was at latitude 35°'30' N., longitude 157°00' E., approximately. There the destroyers and tankers left the striking force and turned back on an easterly course. After dispatching the B-25's on their Tokyo mission the next day the whole force retired at high speed to the eastward and on 21 April were met and again fueled by the Cimarron and Sabine in latitude 35°45' N., longitude 176°00' E., approximately. Then all proceeded to Pearl, where it was hurry up all logistics and get off to the South Pacific where the Japs looked very threatening. The Hornet had to get new squadrons on board and some task-force and ship reorganization made. On 30 April, Task Force Sixteen (Hornet, Enterprise, and supporting vessels) sailed for the South Pacific.

Meanwhile, Brown of Task Force Eleven had been relieved by Rear Admiral A.W. Fitch, who, with his flag in the carrier Lexington, had sailed from Pearl 16 April to join Rear Admiral F.J. Fletcher, with flag in the Yorktown. Fletcher was now senior task-force commander in the South Pacific. The Yorktown had been at sea since 17 February 1942, and since the Salamaua raid had fueled from the Tippecanoe (Commander A. Macondray) in March, and twice in April from the Platte. On 20 April the group reached Tongatabu, where it found fuel, some mail, and limited amounts and types of provisions, and enjoyed a few days of relaxation after 62 days of tension.

When Fitch left Pearl for the South Pacific, available information indicated early concentration of some enemy force there. Later, at Tongatabu, the news definitely suggested a threat in force by the enemy against Port Moresby on the south coast of New Guinea, and perhaps against New Caledonia or Australia. Fitch's Task Force Eleven--the carrier Lexington; cruisers Minneapolis and San Francisco; the destroyers Worden, Dewey, Dale, Aylwin, Farragut, and Monaghan; and the tanker Kaskaskia--had refueled once, on 25 April, at latitude 11°30' S.,


longitude 178°30' W. Meantime, Fletcher at Tongatabu got everything he needed except rest, and sailed 27 April for the Coral Sea. Fitch was diverted to join him there. On 1 May Fletcher refueled from the tanker Neosho, and during the 2d-3d Fitch did likewise from the Tippecanoe, which then departed for Efate in the New Hebrides. On 5 and 6 May 1942, Task Force Seventeen again refueled in the Coral Sea from the Neosho, which immediately thereafter was sent off to the southeast escorted by the destroyer Sims. The retiring point was not far beyond the range of visibility.

The battle of the Coral Sea will not be dealt with here except to note that the Neosho and her escort, the Sims, were discovered and destroyed by the enemy 7 May, and the following day the Lexington was lost and the Yorktown damaged. Meantime our planes had sunk the small enemy carrier Shoho, and severely mauled and all but sunk one of the two larger Japanese carriers. This apparently was more than the Japanese had bargained for, so the operation was discontinued and the enemy's combat units withdrew. The action therefore became a victory for Fletcher at what was probably the most critical period of the war thus far.

Nevertheless, if the withdrawal had not taken place, how much longer could Fletcher have held his position without a source of fuel near his force? We need not answer the question, but as a lesson for the future let us not forget the inadequacy of logistic support during the most critical battle in the Pacific up to that time. Fletcher's base at Tongatabu was 1,300 miles away, and Efate, where the nearly empty Tippecanoe had been sent, was more than 400 miles away.

Hardly had the smoke cleared away from the Coral Sea when the enemy was detected in preparations for another move in great strength. This time the objective was diagnosed as Midway, and Task Force Sixteen started out belatedly for the South Pacific, was recalled to Pearl. Fletcher was also ordered to Pearl with his battered Yorktown. There she was hurriedly patched up for the fight to come.

Along with plans for the expected sea and air battle, preparations were being made at CinCPac headquarters for the defense of Midway Island itself. That island needed personnel, planes, antiaircraft guns, ammunition, and certain stores, and needed them in a hurry.

The U.S.S. Kitty Hawk (Commander E.C. Rogers) had arrived at Pearl on 17 May 1942, and indeed this was fortunate, as few ships at that time had the crane capacity for unloading planes and heavy cargo at the dock at Midway. After unloading her stateside cargo at Pearl, the


Kitty Hawk was reloaded with the following: 28 planes (11 SBD's; 17 F4F4's) and Marine Air Groups 21 and 45; eight 3-inch AA guns, a Marine crew and ammunition to serve them; and more personnel and cargo. She got underway on the 23d and made her highest speed (17.1 knots) for Midway, arriving at 1918 on the 26th. Just 12 minutes after mooring alongside the pier, the Marines started unloading the AA battery and by the next morning it was in place to protect the airfield on San Island. In addition to unloading her important deck cargo she gave the station fuel oil and got clear on the 29th, only a few days before the Battle of Midway commenced. The Kitty Hawk had rendered substantial logistic support to the defense of Midway. In a congratulatory message to Commander Rogers, CinCPac commented upon the "unusually expeditious unloading at Midway."

The task forces which sailed from Pearl on 28 and 30 May to meet the enemy had the tankers Cimarron, Platte, and Guadalupe at sea near them, and refueled on 31 May and 1 June. After the battle, on 8 June 1942, they again refueled a little more than a hundred miles north of Midway Island. The beaten enemy retired, after losing all four of his participating carriers. Lacking certain information, we did not pursue with all the vigor possible, which is unfortunate for we had air superiority and our fast tankers might well have gone farther west in support of our task force had pursuit been carried somewhat farther.

Here at Midway we lost the Yorktown. We had not yet learned thoroughly the use and value of fleet tugs and salvage action.


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